“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”
It is one of the most direct and creepy opening lines to a book that I have ever read. Being a bookworm when classes don’t consume my life, my curiosity was peaked in hearing that Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones was being adapted for the big screen. For those of you who haven’t read it, I will preface this review by saying that the book is a creepy mental thriller that doesn’t rely on plot as much as it does making you emotionally invested in the characters. The movie adaptation lost much of what I liked about Sebold’s writing, but partially made up for that deficit with some really cool special effects and and a good soundtrack.
The central character is Susie Salmon (played by Saoirse Rona, recognizable as the annoying young Briony Tallis from 2008’s Atonement) is a 14-year-old girl who is murdered when she takes a shortcut through a cornfield on her way home from film club. On a high from being asked out by the boy of her dreams, Susie is broken from a trance-like state while walking through the cornfield when her neighbor, Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci), asks if she would like to check out a new underground hideout he built for the neighborhood children (creepy point #1). Excited to be the first one inside, she acquiesces and descends to what would literally be her death. Once trapped in the cellar, Harvey murders and dismembers Susie, finally putting her remains in a safe in his basement (sorry for the gruesome detail for those new to the story).
Susie comes slowly to the realization that she is in limbo, between Heaven and the world she was snatched away from, with the help of another young girl recently killed named Holly. The greater part of the movie focuses on the living world after Susie’s death, mainly looking into the life of her killer and the loved ones she left behind. Her parents (played by Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg) and sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) are left to deal with the aftermath of Susie’s death, along with Ray Singh (Reece Ritchie), the boy Susie dreamed of.
The movie then goes off on a slight tangent, smoothing the abrupt way the novel begins, and loses some of the poignancy of the novel. If the first five minutes had been cut out, it would have been much better. But as things go on, the movie picks up speed. The visual effects in the movie and the portrayal of the in-between did enhance the film sometimes; however, it was pretty trippy at times and was occasionally overdone, taking away from the storyline that I liked so much. There is one scene specifically which is particularly cool visually, where Susie’s father is smashing ships in a bottle and Susie sees ships crashing in her limbo world.
The movie was adapted to build more action into the storyline, which is good for the typical movie theater audience. The screenplay developed more for Wahlberg to do in a father capacity, but his acting tends to fall short of what a truly grieving father would display. Overall, the acting was pretty good, especially by Tucci as the murderer and Susie’s grandmother (played by Susan Sarandon). I can safely say that the grandmother was my favorite character and brought some comedic relief to the movie. The film was much less depressing than the book, which can be both good and bad for the audience.
Though I still prefer the book, I thought the movie was pretty good and lived up to the book much better than many other movie adaptations. The biggest divergence from the book was the linearity with which the story was told and the focus on Susie’s family catching the killer, as opposed to Susie and her family’s coming to grips with what has happened. The book presents an opportunity to become much more involved in the story.
Seeing it with the novel in mind made for quite a different experience; my friend hadn’t read the book and, though confused at times, actually enjoyed some of the qualities of the movie that I didn’t (the storyline and visual effects, in particular). He gave it an overall 7 out of 10, about on par with what I thought. Either way, it is definitely worth seeing. My only note: don’t go to the movie expecting to get the book.